Milano: Decidedly Modern While Embracing History

  • Melissa Vogt

  • 30 Jan 2017 | Travel

Milano is an interesting city, because it’s decidedly modern while still fully embracing its history. On the one hand, there are high-end shopping boutiques, fine-dining restaurants and upscale wine bars, while on the other hand there are historical architectural masterpieces like the Duomo—an absolutely breathtaking cathedral whose seemingly endless construction began in 1386—and the Sforza Castle, which was originally built in the 15th century and embodies the late medieval time period.

This modern city is known as the home of fashion and the big business capital of Italy, but visitors like myself are discovering that the city has much more to offer than just its fashion and business—namely, the food and drink scene! As expected in any modern city, the food and drink scene is going to adhere to a high standard of quality and expertise. And that is certainly the case in Milano. I was very impressed with the cuisine and equally so with the wines available on the wine lists at restaurants. And the coffee—let me just state for the record that Italian coffee is the best coffee in the world, hands down.
The streets of Milano.

Being a tourist in Milano is easy, because the city has such an extensive public transportation system, with buses and trolleys above ground in addition to an underground metro. With that being said, if you’ve got the time and energy, walking is preferable because the sights are gorgeous. Even the shopping malls are housed in stunning works of architecture and beauty. On our visit, my husband and I didn’t do any shopping, but we still walked through some of the shopping malls just to marvel at the ceilings and walls.

Being a wine and food writer, most of the places we visited revolved around wine and food: restaurants, wine bars, coffee shops and street-food vendors, with a couple of sight-seeing pit stops in between. Below are a few of the places we visited and all come highly recommended when visiting Milano.

An absolute must in Milano is going to the Duomo di Milano. This stunning cathedral is the second largest in all of Italy (second only to the Vatican’s St. Peter's Basilica). From the outside, its sheer size will impress you. The intricacy of the architecture and extreme detail are astounding. We spent at least an hour wandering around the Duomo just gawking at the artistry of its construction. Every nook and cranny is so detailed that you begin to understand why its construction began in 1386 and has literally continued all the way through until the 20th century, with some of its final touches being finished in as resent as 1965. The Duomo di Milano is an almost 600-year masterpiece. I had never seen anything like it and was in complete awe. On a trip to Milano, you’d be remiss to not visit the Duomo.
Duomo di Milano in all its majestic glory.

Another must-see that we accidentally stumbled upon while wandering around Milano is the Sforza Castle. This enormous castle was originally built in the late medieval time period in the 15th century and really brings alive history. Again, you can’t help but marvel at the complexity of the architecture and design, with each detail so well-articulated and eye-catching. Sculptures, tiled mosaics and a gorgeous clock tower greet you at the castle’s massive entrance. When you step inside, the courtyard area is enormous and at each corner are beautiful spires that seem to hold the whole thing together. This was the first time I had seen a castle and I was really impressed by its ancient beauty and how well the whole thing was holding up.
Sforza's many beautiful sights.

In each of the destinations I visited, I drank a lot of coffee—like a lot more than I ever would normally drink in a single day in my regular life at home. But coffee culture in Italy is different and there is no stigma against making a café pit-stop several times a day. My favorite café in Milano was definitely Il Marchesino (connected to its fine-dining restaurant of the same name). Locals call this place Marchesi and the owner of the apartment we rented during our stay recommended them as the best espresso in town. We visited Marchesi several times during the two days we were in Milano, and their cappuccino, espresso and macchiato—over the course of those two days I tried all three of these classic Italian coffee drinks at Marchesi—were all amazing. You really can’t get a better caffeine fix for one Euro. What a deal! I wish coffee drinks in the US were as affordable as this.
Pina Café Milano

Another good stop for coffee in Milano is right next to the Duomo, so if you’re in the mood to sit for a while and people-watch, head to the Pina Café Milano. There’s outdoor seating and you’ll have a nice view of the backside of the Duomo, as well as the goings on at the street-food vendors that line up alongside the Duomo with their fresh salami, panini, formaggi (cheese) and other tasty Italian treats like cannoli.
Formaggi and salumi street food vendors on the Piazza del Duomo.

As I already mentioned, Milano is quite the foodie city, with its fine-dining restaurants, excellent family-owned trattorias, and amazingly affordable and delicious street food. Let’s first look at the street food, which really couldn’t be any more simple and tasty for under 5 Euros. We tasted a couple different types of paninis from two different vendors. One was fresh-sliced proscuitto on top of a Bavarian pretzel—hybrid Italian and German cuisine—yum! And the other was a personal-sized Italian baguette filled with porchetta, warmed in the oven. Both were served to eat on-the-go and were just the right thing for two hungry foreigners who’d landed in Milano at 8am after a red-eye flight from the States. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted such simple and tasty sandwiches before. They didn’t have any condiments and yet, there was really no need for them—that’s how delicious they were. The succulent and flavorful proscuitto and porchetta carried the paninis on their own.
Porchetta panini | Bavarian pretzel with prosciutto | Salumi

My husband and I enjoyed two nice dinners during our visit in Milano at L’Angolo di Casa and Osteria La Risacca “6”. Both of these restaurants featured menus full of seafood, given their northern location and proximity to the Ligurian coast, and both come highly recommended. Be on the lookout for coming articles where I dish up details about the meals we enjoyed at both of these restaurants.

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